Nate Hanson was a notable hitter for the Gophers in the three seasons from 2006 to 2008. Collegiate baseball in this northern climate was an interesting activity, with a few scrimmages in the fall, winter practices in the fieldhouse, February trips on a budget to the South or West, early home games in the Metrodome, and then a dozen or so games (hopefully) in well-worn Siebert Field.
Amid the hither and yon-ness, Hanson looked forward to the traditional kickoff to a practice.
“The quote of the day,’’ he said. “One of us would be assigned to come up with a quote of the day to present to the team, and then Rob would tell us a story that related to it, or express how it related to the team.
“There was no advance warning as to what the quote was going to be, but Rob was never left speechless.’’
The Rob in this case is Fornasiere, in his 33rd year with the Gophers, and the assistant head coach to John Anderson, in his 37th.
Fornasiere admits that in the late ’90s, there was a quote of the day that gave him pause:
“Vince Gangl was a righthanded pitcher from Nashwauk-Keewatin, an Iron Ranger to the core. And his quote was, ‘If you can’t fight and you can’t flee, you have to flow.’ ”
Two decades later, Fornasiere offered a slight laugh, trying to recall how he tied in going with the flow and winning baseball.
It was announced last week that Fornasiere, 62, was going to retire after this season. The Gophers were on the East Coast, winning a nonconference game with Big East champion St. John’s, and then winning twice at Rutgers to claim the Big Ten’s regular-season title.
That gave the Gophers the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament, and they held off Michigan State 3-2 in their opener Wednesday night in Omaha.
The teams from the South and the West continue to hold a large advantage, yet Fornasiere says this with sincerity and not lip service:
“The Big Ten is better than it’s ever been. We have seven teams that won 30 games. The NCAA has done a good job in systematically trying to level the playing field.
“There was a time when the only rule in baseball was there were no rules. Back in 1976, the Gophers went to Texas. They were 0-0 and Texas was 28-1. The Gophers won three out of four. I look back on that in our record book and it has to be one of the great accomplishments in the history of Gophers sports.
“There’s now a limit of 56 games in the regular season. None of our teams got to 56, with weather cancellations, but at least there’s a limit. There’s a chance.’’
Fornasiere came from Sun Prairie, Wis., and played four years at Wisconsin-LaCrosse. He was working on a Master’s degree at Bowling Green and also was the lone assistant to baseball coach Don Purvis.
Normandale Community College in Bloomington had an active, successful athletics program and hired Fornasiere as head baseball coach and assistant to Fred Moyer in football in the fall of 1980.
“I coached the guy that held for extra points,’’ Fornasiere said. “That was it for me as a football coach. We had a good five-year run in baseball, though, and I got to know John Anderson.’’
The coaching legend, Dick Siebert, died in December 1978 and George Thomas replaced him. Thomas had been running the Williams Fund as well as assisting in baseball, so the money-pinching Gophers had George split the duties.
Thomas left after three seasons and was replaced by Anderson, his assistant, for the 1982 season. Get this: Anderson’s first four seasons as head baseball coach were part-time. He also worked at Emery Air Freight.
Finally, in the fall of 1985, head baseball coach became a full-time job, and Anderson was allowed to bring in Fornasiere as an assistant.
Next week, the Gophers will be in the NCAA tournament for the 17th time in the 33 years that Anderson and Fornasiere have been a team. They haven’t reached a Super Regional (the final 16) since that format started in 1999.
Maybe this time. This is a strong team; lots of hitting and fielding, a bit thin in starting pitching.
Whatever comes, the old Siebert Field that fell into disrepair has been replaced by a boutique ballpark— an $8.5 million complex including the new hitting facility named in honor of contributor Glen Perkins.
“The administration contributed $1 million total, to equal what was spent for the new boat house for women’s rowing,” Fornasiere said. “The rest was raised by John. We wouldn’t have this if not for his determination — and the generosity of the Pohlad family.
“I’ve had 39 years as a college coach. Gophers baseball is in a good place. It’s time to give someone new a chance to be part of this.’’
That’s almost a quote of the day, Rob.